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BUFFALO, NY, May 14 (Reuters) – An 18-year-old white gunman shot and killed 10 people and injured three at a grocery store in a black upstate New York neighborhood on Saturday, before turning himself in after what authorities called an act of “racially motivated violent extremism”.
Authorities said the suspect, who was armed with an assault rifle and appeared to have acted alone, traveled to Buffalo from his home several hours away to launch the afternoon attack that he had broadcast in real time on the social media platform Twitch, a live video. service owned by Amazon.com (AMZN.O).
Eleven of the 13 people hit by gunfire were black, officials said. The other two were white. The racial breakdown of the dead was not specified.
Court documents named the suspect as Payton Gendron of Conklin, a town of about 5,000 in the southern New York area near the Pennsylvania border.
He was arraigned hours after the shooting in state court for first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said. New York has no capital punishment.
Flynn said the judge also ordered Gendron to be held in custody without bond and undergo a “forensic examination.” Gendron was due back in court on May 19.
Authorities said the teenager, reported by local media as a student at the State University of New York’s Broome Community College near Binghamton, nearly took his own life before being arrested.
When confronted by officers in the store, the suspect pointed a gun at his own neck, but they convinced him to drop the gun and turn himself in, the Buffalo Police Commissioner said. Joseph Gramaglia, during a press briefing.
Gramaglia said the shooter shot and killed three people in the parking lot of the Tops Friendly Markets store before exchanging gunfire with a retired police officer working as a security guard for the store, but the suspect was protected by his bullet proof vest.
The guard was one of 10 people shot, the other nine being all customers. Three other employees at the store, which is part of a regional chain, were injured but are expected to survive, authorities said.
Tops manager Shonnell Harris told the Buffalo News she thought she heard up to 70 gunshots and fell several times as she ran through the store to a rear exit.
“He looked like he was in the army,” she told the newspaper, describing the attacker in camouflage.
Retired firefighter Katherine Crofton, who lives nearby, said she witnessed the start of the bloodshed from her porch.
“I saw him shoot that woman,” Crofton told the newspaper. “She had just walked into the store. And then he shot another woman. She was putting groceries in her car. I got off because I didn’t know if he was going to shoot me.”
Stephen Belongia, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s field office in Buffalo, said the attack would be investigated as both a hate crime and an act of “violent extremism in racially motivated” under federal law.
“That person was pure evil,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said at a news conference, his voice shaking with emotion. “This was a racially motivated hate crime committed by someone outside of our community.”
US President Biden denounced the shooting as “abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation” in a statement released on Saturday evening. “Hate must have no refuge. We must do everything in our power to put an end to domestic terrorism fueled by hatred.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul told a late-night news conference she was appalled the killer managed to livestream his attack on social media, which she accused of having hosted a “feeding frenzy” of violent extremist ideology.
“The fact that this can even be released on one platform is absolutely shocking,” Hochul said. “These outlets need to be more vigilant in monitoring social media content.”
Twitch said in a statement that it deleted the live stream less than two minutes after it started and was working to ensure no other accounts were reposting the content. Hochul said he should have been taken out “in a second”.
Screenshots of the show were posted on social media, some of which appeared to show the shooter holding a gun and standing over a body in the grocery store.
A document circulating online that appeared to be written by the killer outlined a to-do list for the attack, including cleaning the weapon and testing the livestream.
Additionally, a 180-page manifesto outlining “The Great Replacement Theory” — the idea that white people are being replaced by minorities in the United States and other countries — has also been circulating online, the author of which allegedly was Gendron.
A spokesperson for Flynn’s office declined to comment on the documents. The FBI could not immediately be reached for comment.
The governor also said she would introduce a previously planned “comprehensive” gun control package on Tuesday to “address other shortcomings that exist in our (state) laws.”
Hochul said the firearm used in the murders was purchased legally but was illegally modified with a high-capacity magazine, which she said could easily have been purchased legally in Pennsylvania.
The Buffalo shooting follows a pattern of other racially motivated mass murders in recent years, including a Pittsburgh synagogue attack that left 11 worshipers dead in October 2018, and the Atlanta spa shooting in March 2021 in which a white man killed eight people, targeting Asians.
Saturday’s shooting was also reminiscent of the 2019 attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, when the killer streamed the killings live on Facebook.
Buffalo Mayor Bryon Brown called for unity on what he called “a day of great pain for our community.”
“Many of us walked in and out of this supermarket several times,” he told reporters. “We cannot let this hateful person divide our community or our country.”
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Pete Schroeder and Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and William Mallard
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